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IR B2B Summit INTERVIEW Jonathan Newman of Office Depot Europe on transparency in digital transformation

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We’re running a series of pieces looking ahead to the first InternetRetailing Events B2B Summit, to be held in Berlin in January.

Today we hear from Jonathan Newman, CIO and VP ecommerce and marketing operations at Office Depot Europe on how the B2B sector is progressing the task of digital transformation. This is the second part of a two-part interview. You can find the first part here.

IR: At the B2B Summit you’ll be taking part in a round table on the importance of transparency in digital transformation. How important an issue is that for B2B traders?

JN: Transparency of the business processes out to the B2B customer is absolutely critical. It’s also important to have internal visibility within the organisation to gain support. You’ve got to have sponsorship top down at your organisation, being willing to change, to consider new ideas, to go out and potentially sacrifice the proverbial sacred cows of the way business used to be done. It’s hard to do that from shop floor up – you need that sponsorship and that visibility.

You need to be able to share a vision with the broader organisation and get people excited about the journey they are on because that journey is going to be challenging. They’re going to give up on things they’ve been passionate about in the past. That journey that worked 10 years ago isn’t going to work today. Yet you’ve got people on the work floor that have been with your organisation through that.

You need to embrace that need to change, come into the discussions about how/what/when with a little bit of enthusiasm. Having said that I’m not convinced you need to get a whole organisation doing this from day one. I think there is an element that you need a core group that is the agent of change. You need to delegate decision making and authority to them, and to trust them to solicit the data from their internal networks, get input from the customer, look at what’s happening in the industry and make some incremental improvements.

As you start stitching together the customer journey across multiple touchpoints, online and offline, transforming your digital process with regard to how the customer will act you have to celebrate those small successes. That celebration of those successes builds momentum internally. The core group of change agents builds critical mass and becomes an unstoppable force in the organisation.

Companies have to approach that with a different time view. Some companies that are inherently conservative probably need to look at that group of change agents as being empowered for an extended period of time to build enough small successes so that the wave of those successes is significant. Other companies may find they are more open to change and it takes one or two small successes to get enthusiasm and buy-in.

IR: Aside from your own presentation, what are you most looking forward to at the B2B Summit?

JN: I’m always interested in hearing where leaders across the B2B industry are in their thought processes around the customer journey and how to optimise that. How to help the customer get through that journey as quickly as possible, and what you need to do in your organisation to help that happen. How do you group units of the organisation together most effectively? What type of things do you need to go into those groups that are to drive innovation and change?

Every one of these events I go to I have a conversation with somebody that sparks something different and gets me thinking about how to solve problems that we’ve got today. One of the great truisms of digital transformation in B2B is we’re all going through it, we’re all learning, nobody has got it perfect, noone has won this domain yet.

There is still a battle to be market leader. We can talk about Amazon and its business model and being a new entry, a disruptor, that is likely to be very successful in this space, but I think anyone who is used to the B2B world will very quickly be able to identify 7, 8 or 9 deficiencies in the Amazon model that don’t work in the mid-size and large B2B space. How are we going to make that happen? Who is going to get there first? What industry has the most mature thinking? I’m really interested in hearing speakers, but also hearing the discussion questions, talking to people and just getting a sense of what’s working and what’s not.

Jonathan Newman will be discussing digital transformation in B2B at the InternetRetailing Events B2B Summit in Berlin in January. Contact Lee Price ( if you’re interested in applying to attend.

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